Buzz Knight 00:00:01
Taking a walk with Buzz Knight. Well, hi. This is Buzz Knight. I’m the host of the Taken a Walk podcast series, where I walk and talk with interesting people at cool locations. Or if you prefer, cool people at interesting locations. Either way, I’m good. I talked with comedians, business leaders, ordinary people telling extraordinary stories, you name it. We even talked to a neuroscientist once. And if you’re a regular listener, thanks for your support. And if you’re new, please share and subscribe and tell everybody about taking a walk. By the way, if you are a new listener, we actually do take a walk somewhere, so you will hear noises and occasionally even somebody huffing and puffing, because we’re actually walking. So I tell you that because when we do it in person, that’s the case. And in this case, we’re doing a virtual version of taking a walk, courtesy of PodBean and their app. I prefer in person, but it just seems sometimes like it’s not meant to be to get on the road, at least in some cases. Today, our guest Toronto, Canada area our guest is the president of News and Entertainment for Rogers Sports and Media. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her in person, but it’s nice to be virtually taking a walk with Julie Adam. Hello, Julie.
Julie Adam 00:01:41
Hi, Buzz. Great to be walking with you. As you said, I wish we were doing it in person. Maybe we would be walking to Fenway Park and catching a baseball game, but happy to be virtually walking with you.
Buzz Knight 00:01:55
That’s awesome. Now, I’m at a place called Punkatasset Preserve in Concord, Massachusetts, so occasionally I might be swatting away a mosquito in this sojourn. But it is a beautiful day. And you are in the Toronto, Canada area, right?
Julie Adam 00:02:17
I’m in Toronto, yes. I’m in midtown Toronto. Toronto is a big city, and I am in the midtown area, walking through a lovely North Toronto neighborhood. And I’m sure at some point in time you’ll hear a lot of car traffic and honking, but I’ll try to avoid the main streets.
Buzz Knight 00:02:43
Just be careful, too. We’ll do be careful. You might hear a dog barking here. You might hear an airplane flying over because there’s Hanscom Air Force Base not too far from here. Or you might hear nothing, but thanks for taking a walk. Now, how are our friends in Canada, and specifically Julie Adam and her team at Rogers doing?
Julie Adam 00:03:16
We’re doing well. Canada has been, I’m going to say, perhaps a little more conservative around covid rules. And so we’ve had more lockdowns in the United States. Toronto, being the biggest city, has had the most waves of covid, and so we spent the better part of two years going in and out of full lockdown. And over the last maybe six months or so, the restrictions have eased. And so our team has been, like most media teams, trying to respond to this pandemic and having to manage not only the news and the entertainment. So in a lot of cases with our entertainment brands, it’s been keeping things light for people and giving them the reason to laugh. And for our news teams, it’s the opposite. It’s the non stop barage of news. So they’ve had to manage how they interact with the audience and how they take care of the audience and how we take care of our clients with how they take care of themselves. And the number of people that call in sick because of covid is way up. It has been a wild two years, but I would say overall we are doing well. And at the end of the day, we always say we work in media. We really don’t have anything to complain about. It’s a great gig.
Buzz Knight 00:04:55
Yeah, well, you and I share something, which is the fact that certainly started out on air in my career, and I know you also did as well. Talk about how that shapes you to this day as a leader of a media company.
Julie Adam 00:05:19
Well, I know how hard it is and I know that I wasn’t any good at it. And I’m not being modest. I didn’t and don’t have what it takes. It never connected in my head how you sit in a room by yourself and talk to an invisible group of people and have no feedback and be entertaining. So that never clicked for me as much as I wanted it to. I really didn’t want to be in management. I wanted to be on the air and play music and goof around for a living. So I think my first reaction is, I understand just how hard the job is and the people that do it for a living, they make them look so easy. And when I was starting out in the business as an intern production operator, I really thought, oh, this is an easy gig. I watch these people do this every day. How hard can it be? And then when you go to do it, you realize, oh my goodness, this is a hard job. And the people, I guess like anybody who’s good at their job, they often make it look easy. They’re relaxed, they can sort of jump right into it under pressure. But I found it really difficult, so I guess that would be my first thought.
Buzz Knight 00:06:48
So who shaped you and your leadership skills as you were progressing through your career?
Julie Adam 00:06:57
I like to think I take a little bit from everyone. I learn as much from people in different roles as I do from people from my bosses, if you will. So maybe start early with my dad was a massive influence on me. I watched him work. I could see that he was a really nice guy and people liked me, had a great sense of humor, and he didn’t really meet anybody that didn’t like my dad. However they’re not a however but an and he was also really tough. I mean, it was fair, but he believed strongly. And you got to stand up for yourself and stand up for your values and do the right thing. And when people aren’t doing the right thing, make sure that you use your voice. So I would say he shaped me early on and right through until he passed away, he was definitely my number one confidant. I was always calling him or going to see him to talk about business challenges or things that I wasn’t sure about or getting this advice. And then in the industry, I had several people who I worked with who taught me a lot, and probably the person who influenced me the most was when Rogers bought the radio station that I was working for. It was one of those that I didn’t know anything about it, and they changed the format, and so a lot of the personnel changed, but they kept me. And the general manager, market manager, really took me under his wing. And it’s kind of funny because he was trying to hire a program director to program the station, and I guess things just didn’t work out. I was the assistant program director, and he told me point blank, you’re not going to get this job, but do it for now because we need someone to do it. We just bought this station, and then when the real program director comes in, we’ll have a job for you. It will be in another market, and you’re going to have to move. And are you okay with that? And I said, sure. Yeah, that’s fine. And I think what I took away from him was a few things. One was just how honest he was and direct he was, and he didn’t beat around the bush with that conversation. And that really allowed me to get my head around what I needed to do and set the expectations. The second was he gave me a lot of shots that I wasn’t I ended up getting the job, and then he gave me several other promotions and more opportunities, and he gave me all these shots, and I wasn’t ready for most of them. In fact, I don’t think I was ready for any of them because when are you ready for anything? I mean, we’re never ready for anything. We have to get the experience. We have to have the opportunity to get the experience in order to be ready. And so he gave me a lot of shots, and the last thing was he was really tough on me. He’s a great guy, and he was nice and made a lot of laughs, but I would get inundated with messages from him about early in my programming career. Why did the jingle run here and why did we play this song? And why was this morning show break this long? And what are you trying to do over here? And it was relentless and he used to joke and say, I’m either going to get you to be really good at your job or I’m going to kill you. One or two things are going to happen up. And obviously he was pushing around, but I don’t think with that sort of like all those three things, just being direct, the belief and giving me opportunities to stretch myself and then non stop feedback, they can give me tons of positive feedback too, but it was constant feedback and those have always really stuck with me. His name is Chuck McCoy, one of the infamous radio legends in Canada, and I was just really lucky to work with him.
Buzz Knight 00:11:48
That’s great. Those are so many qualities and so many important qualities, which leads me to the qualities that you talk about in your book, which congratulations, we could add author to your resume “Imperfectly Kind why Kindness Is The Must Have Super Power You Need” I love the title, I love the book. Congratulations on it. Talk about what motivated you to put the book out.
Julie Adam 00:12:23
Thank you. I don’t know why, but for some reason I’ve always had it in my head that I want to write a book and for as long as I can remember. And so I’ve taken it, took a few swings at it and I just couldn’t get going to get started. I’d always have this inner voice that would tell me, why are you doing this? You’re not an author, you’re not a writer. Nobody’s going to read it, it’s not going to be any good. You have that jerk of an inner voice who tries to talk to you things that you want to talk to, tries to talk out of your dreams and push you down. I think we all have that voice and for whatever reason, one day I just sort of having this inner conversation and shop back. Like, who cares if it’s not any good? I mean, I’m not trying to be a full time writer. It’s just something I want to do. It may fail. Maybe I will write something and release it and it won’t be any good. But that’s not failure. Failure is really not doing it. Once I got my head around that, that gave me permission to start., just about doing the work and stretching myself and giving myself an opportunity to do something I hadn’t done. And then when Covidt hit, I was just sick and tired of all the negative news and I needed to do something positive. And we were in lockdown. I wasn’t traveling, so I had a bunch of time on my hand. And so I think all those things together to see the permission and the time to give it a go, I’m so glad I did it. It was so much fun and it was really scary. Yeah. And a great experience and a great learning experience.
Buzz Knight 00:14:41
That’s great. Yeah, it’s just got a great vibe to it. And God knows we need a little positive vibe these days. I interviewed someone, I don’t know if you know, this person by the name of Charlene Li, a business strategist for all different types of Fortune 500 companies. And she writes about disruption and transformation, among other things, but writes about people and culture. And she had a comment which basically, in so many words, says that companies need to start treating their people like humans. I’d love to get your reaction to that comment.
Julie Adam 00:15:33
Seems so obvious, don’t you think? Yeah, it’s complicated. Business relationships are very complicated because, of course, we are humans and we need to treat each other with respect. And they’re just so complex because they’re not always clear. People aren’t always there’s power and authority and involved, and some people think they know more than others. And so it’s an odd dynamic, isn’t it, these business relationships. And I do think at the heart of it, we have to treat each other with respect and we have to treat each other yes, like human beings and sounds so silly, but we have to treat each other. We want to be treated. And I think this notion of you’re a high performer, you can deliver great business results, you’re a complete jerk. But that’s okay. I just think that, yes, we want people to drive great results, but not at the expense of treating others like garbage. So, yeah, I agree with that. And it is obvious. And I think the business world is getting to be a better place to work from a culture perspective. Not perfect, but I think we’re getting there. And who wants to surround themselves with people who treat each other badly? I mean, that’s not fun and that’s not productive. And so, yes, absolutely. Each other like humans.
Buzz Knight 00:17:27
So you’ve got a lot of great brands in your company. What are some of the brands that you would maybe like to highlight just in terms of what they do every day for their community, for their advertisers and how they stand out in their markets?
Julie Adam 00:17:46
Yeah, it’s tricky because I should mention all of them. What time do we have?
Buzz Knight 00:17:52
How much time do you want?
Julie Adam 00:17:55
Always hard to pick a few, but I’ll pick a few. Maybe start with Breakfast Television and City TV. City TV has got a great local television brand and it’s a national network, but it has local executions or local stations. And it was started I feel like it’s going to be its 50th anniversary this year. And Rogers bought it from the original founder It was all about being local television and did some incredible, really innovative things like Speaker Corner just had such a neat television station. It was a bit irreverent. It really represented the diversity of the community. The personalities have always represented the diversity of the community, and it’s still that way today. And so if we think about City TV, it’s just this great national network that airs hit TV shows like Law and Order and Chicago, and then it has this incredible morning show, Breakfast Television. And I’m always just so inspired by whenever they do some kind of call to action. And usually it’s a fundraiser or something for charity. Anytime they put out the ask, the audience is happy to donate or raise money or raise funds. And I always hear, oh, yeah, I saw that on breakfast television. And it’s just such a great reminder of the power of people and a great brand and being consistent. And they do news traffic and weather and all those things, but it’s really fun. The other incredible part about City TV is City News, which is the local news brand. And we recently rebranded all of our English news outlets to City News. So we have radio, digital, and television. And City News continues to be it was the first news network that didn’t have anchors at the desk, and they’re always looking for the right local to tell all local stories. We just launched a new feature last week where they’re going into different neighborhoods, doing the news from different neighborhoods, not from a city, but from an actual neighborhood, and talking about that community and their 05:00 and 06:00 news on Friday. It was all about a community in Scarborough, which is an area of Toronto. So just that hyper localness is amazing. So I would say that’s one. And then on the radio side, we continue to have two of the biggest brands in Canada, and they’re really special because they were also among the first radio brands in Canada. CHFI is where Rogers started. Ted Rogers, the founder of the company, started to buy 98.1. Now think about that. One radio station helped Ted Rogers build this incredible company, which is wireless and cable and all the things that Rogers is now media is just a piece of it, and radio is just a piece of that. But it all started with a radio station. So amazing brands that we’re all lucky to work with. And then we just launched Sonic Radio in Vancouver and a shout out to the team there who decided to play Rage Against the Machine, the same song for 24 hours, just as a way to transition from a pop station to an alternative station. And the news blew up around the world and coverage from Rolling Stone magazine throughout. And I just think that’s a great nod to a local music brand still being able to generate news across North America. Actually, it was worldwide. There were European publishers that were writing about it over this goofy radio stunt where they take the song Killing in the name and play it over and over again. So it was pretty fun. ride and a pretty fun launch.
Buzz Knight 00:23:04
Yeah, congratulations on that. I love that one, and I love the fact that you guys just went for it and did it and you reap the rewards.
Julie Adam 00:23:15
Well, Buzz, that’s the team, and that Christian, is our national content director and he’s overseas. Sonic in Vancouver, and Jack in Vancouver, and Paul Kaye, who’s our VP of Music brand, and in his productions, Christian and Paul and their respective team. And it would take me an hour to name all of them. That’s all them, right. And you asked me earlier who helped shape my career. Those are the kind of people that shape my career because I’m learning from them all the time. And I think as a leader, you don’t just learn from your boss, really. You should be as humans, we should be on a constant journey of learning and learning from other people. And that was a great example of them and their teams going for it. And hey, I had nothing to do with that. They just told me this is what we were doing. And I said, all right, well, good luck. And then it was such an incredible launch. So all the kudos to the team.
Buzz Knight 00:24:34
Well, no, I love it. So in closing then, is there one thing you might suggest to other media operators, whether they be us or whether they be elsewhere in Europe or wherever, that they should maybe convert, consider differently, reconsider?
Julie Adam 00:24:59
I guess I still hold true that it all comes down to the people and we don’t have as many people as we used to have. And that’s always the worst part of the job, is having to think about how you can do more with fewer people. But to me, the magic happens from having great people and then having them execute really well. And so I don’t have any magic wands or tricks for what media companies should do. There’s not a like, do this, do A and B will happen, other than I think if you hire really great people and let them figure out what they need to do and help them execute and give them the tools to execute where you can, that, to me, is the magic. That’s where all the good stuff happens. Somebody had to come up with the idea to play a song for 24 hours straight and then pick that song. There’s no machine that’s going to do that. That’s a human being knowing their audience and knowing the market and having an idea and going for it. So to me, it’s putting our faith and will always be about putting our faith in people. And then I think the other thing is just this, I don’t know, having humility, I guess, and being humble about the reality of our world, which is there is so much competition for time and people. We all hear the cliche around time is the new currency, but there’s just so much competition and whatever it is that you want people to do. You have to earn their time. So I think we have to stay true to getting great people and then having high standards around the products that we put out if we’re expecting people to give us their time.
Buzz Knight 00:27:09
Bravo, Julie. Adam, for the work you’re doing and the standards that you’re setting, and I’m so grateful for your time and your generosity today. Thank you for taking a walk with me.
Julie Adam 00:27:27
Thank you. Can I ask one question before we go?
Buzz Knight 00:27:30
Julie Adam 00:27:32
You have an incredible background. I’m a fan of yours. You’ve done amazing work throughout your career. You’re in the podcasting space now. How’s it going and how are you feeling about the podcasting business?
Buzz Knight 00:27:45
Well, it’s going great. And that doesn’t suggest that taking a walk is a walk in the park, because it’s not. Building an audience is certainly something that was never under an illusion that that’s easy. And once you get into it, you see it’s even harder than you initially thought. But it’s tremendously gratifying when it comes to creativity and learning and relearning old skills and learning new skills. And that’s something I’m incredibly grateful for as well. And I think it’s really interesting and certainly something I think media companies should think about, which is the fact that you can create an audience that doesn’t have any borders whatsoever. I’m not sure how to monetize it in that regard. That’s a whole other thing. It got about 3 hours. But the notion that you can go beyond your border and cultivate a community is a pretty cool thing. So I’m not even a year in yet. I’m almost a year and having a blast and very grateful for it and how it allows me to connect with new people is terrific. And how it allows me to reconnect with folks like you that I respect is also a joy as well.
Julie Adam 00:29:29
I love that.
Buzz Knight 00:29:30
Julie Adam 00:29:30
Congratulations and good for you for going for it. You’ve always been someone who goes for it and I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and I wish you the best. Keep going.
Buzz Knight 00:29:43
Thanks, Julie. All the best you’re do. I appreciate it very much. Taking a Walk with BuzzKnight is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.